By 1871, Jason Sloan, considered to be one of Little Rock’s finest citizens, had amassed a small fortune in his business of real estate development, along with several shrewd investments in various enterprises in the state. He performed his business duties with the same acumen which had made him a successful operator on the River. His charm continued to be one of his greatest assets. He had also by this time a beautiful wife, daughter of a state senator, who had stood beside him for these past ten years and had given him three excellent children, two boys and a girl.
There were those who would have avidly supported Sloan had he chosen to run for governor, and there were those who encouraged him to do just that. But as we have seen, Jason was a shrewd individual. He knew that power is exercised not in the offices where the titled people operate, but in the backrooms by people such as himself, bright, charming, moneyed, and incidentally, ruthless. He exercised his power in this fashion, and by 1880 nothing moved in the State of Arkansas without Sloan’s imprimatur. His elder son, John, was in his third year at Princeton, his daughter, Melissa, who was just this season presented to society seemed poised to be the next “Belle of the South.” His younger son, Lewis, at a mere sixteen years of age, decided that enough was too much and he departed for parts unknown. Sloan himself would say, “Two out of three is not bad.” But underneath this apparent cavalier attitude was the breaking heart of a loving father. And, of course, with his resources, and unbeknownst to Lewis, Jason was aware of every move the boy made, knew exactly where he was and with whom he was associating.
Following only so far in his father’s footsteps, Lewis boarded a riverboat bound upstream to Fort Smith. Lewis, though, did not undertake any form of gambling or graft, for what he lacked in guile, he made up for in ambition and raw physical work. He traveled as a hand on the boat, chucking wood, firing boilers and generally taking sharp orders of the sort he would have resented had they come from his father. He made two runs from Little Rock to Fort Smith, then decided that life on the river was not a career option. He worked on the docks in Fort Smith, he worked in the livery, and wherever or for whomever he worked it was remarked that he was a go-getter.
Lewis Sloan had arrived in Fort Smith at a propitious time for an ambitious young man. It was a mere five years earlier that Isaac Parker, later renowned far and wide, was named to the bench at the Federal District Court. He, along with the federal marshals and other law enforcement officers, was “cleaning up” a heretofore lawless region, including not only Northwestern Arkansas, but also the Indian Territory across the River. The decade of the 80s was a boom time for Fort Smith. The population more than tripled to about 12,000 souls. In June of 1886, a packet arrived with a shipment of goods, including industrial machinery, but the man to whom it was addressed was no where to be found. The captain of the boat ordered the stuff unloaded on the dock. Lewis was in the right place at the right time. With his connections at the livery, he was able to obtain horses and drays with which to move the equipment, and with his small savings he rented a building, not much more than a shed, but with a roof overhead. There he placed his find, and his road to riches, while not yet paved, certainly was under construction. His business grew with the town.
Lewis married, of course, as young men, given the opportunity, will do. Sally Ford had arrived in Fort Smith by train, the railroad having arrived there a decade earlier. Her father was a furniture manufacturer from Philadelphia, and he was in town to establish a western branch of his company. It was only natural that a manufacturer in need of equipment was going to deal with Lewis Sloan, and one thing led to another.
Marshall Sloan was born in 1888. His parents had just seen their twenty-fourth birthdays, yet he was the only child born to the union. A family reunion, one in which Jason Sloan was privileged to meet this new grandchild, took place in 1891, when the elder Sloan came to Fort Smith to study the possibility of establishing a glass factory. The recent discovery of gas made that a possibility, and it was done, but more importantly, the splintered family was reconciled.
Text © 2014 David W. Lacy
Text © 2014 David W. Lacy